A Vision as Clear as Mud

SACS is here! SACS is here!  Certainly many of you are rejoicing at the notion that our knight in shining armor has arrived.

Don’t hold your breath.  This latest SACS visit may produce another letter of warning or may result in the system being placed on some kind of probation, however, we’ve been down this road before and nothing much has changed in over a decade.  Do you suppose it could be due to the system being rudderless and without a clear vision? We do.

The District, under Ramona Tyson’s leadership and alongside the consulting firm, MGT America, proposed a “2020 Vision” stating where they envision our school system to land in the year 2020. Unfortunately, all that vision could articulate was a list of buildings and construction projects necessary to house 100,000 students.  In fact, as always, there were additional millions earmarked again for technology, which has yet again, been squandered in some hole called the WBBC (William Bradley Bryant Center), leaving most of our schools lacking even a reliable wifi system. In fact, it was recently revealed that regardless of the millions upon millions spent on technology, we do not have the computers and connections necessary to conduct the mandated state tests!

At the time, the old DeKalb School Watch blog team put their noodles together and decided to write their own 2020 Vision for DeKalb Schools.  We still feel it is far more actionable and measurable than anything ever put forth from the DCSS administration — including Dr. Atkinson’s “Theory of Action for Change” – which we do not find clear, actionable or different. In fact, it’s almost impossible to comprehend, much less follow. How’s this for some eduspeak? —

The “Theory of Action for Change” associated with performance/empowerment focuses on results, results which can be measured in the form of predetermined performance indicators of change which are evident in leading and lagging outcomes. Employee behaviors of empowerment evidence accountability, collaboration, and a drive for results. In addition, employee leadership at all levels of the organizational unit must prevail in the decision making process. Under these conditions, both power and authority to act are resident at the school level.

So, is that happening? What does it mean for students? These are lofty words, but the Board and Superintendent have only taken actions that cut support to students and teachers and placed more stress in the classroom. It’s hard to focus on the ‘organizational unit’ when your roster has blossomed and you are down several key team players like parapros and library clerks.

In light of our leadership’s lack of a truly useful vision, we decided that our 2020 Vision was worth repeating below. Read all three visions and leave your comments as to which ideas in each offer clear, focused, promising improvement for the children of DeKalb and then add your own. Continue to share your own vision with your school leaders. Do not back down. Do not get derailed by shenanigans (budgetary or otherwise), and do not hold back due to fear. 100,000 children are counting on your drive and energy.

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“Without a vision, the people perish…”

And so will the future of public education in DeKalb County if we don’t see radical change. Bloggers –parents, teachers and students – demand those in charge either lead or get out of the way. We are tired of the blaming, the excuses, the diversion tactics. It is still possible to educate children within a public system – but it requires skilled leadership and a sense of mission – a sense of purpose; a clear vision we have not had in this district in easily 20 years. In the past, we have blamed the old boys’ network, the federal court case, M to M, Dr. Brown – when the real culprit behind all of this has been an abject failure of leadership. How is it Fulton and Gwinnett have not become the public school embarrassments DeKalb has? Because when challenges emerged, demographics shifted and the feds made new rules, these counties adapted. They are not perfect: but they installed capable leadership and communicated a clear mission: educate kids. Let us do likewise.

The consequences of failing in this mission are grave. We polled our regular bloggers, contributors and consultants asking their input on a vision for our schools. Herewith, our own 2020 vision:

A trained, experienced superintendent who possesses the utmost integrity and character, who can guide DeKalb Schools in a way that develops teachers, staff and students; a leader not heretofore connected to this school system, who will end cronyism and nepotism, who can restore trust and is dedicated to putting student learning first; a leader qualified to re-structure a Central Office to serve children first.

A chief financial officer of the utmost integrity and character who is trustworthy and transparent in overseeing wise expenditures of the people’s money.

Board of Education members who adhere to codified ethical and legal standards; who are themselves educated; who are engaged in the mission of student learning; whose family members are not employed by the DeKalb County School System.

The completion of a thorough, outside audit of the budget, all SPLOST expenditures and financial practices of the school system.

A re-configuring of the pay scale to redirect monies to classroom teachers from the Central Office personnel.

A qualified, skilled principal in every school, gifted at harnessing the power of teachers and parents to work in harmony for the development of every child; empowered principals who can remove inadequate teachers and staff.

A system of schools that offer an equitable course of study in a safe, clean and welcoming environment – no matter where you live.

A qualified teacher in every classroom, each encouraged to seek national certification, and each supported by the network of resources – including student teachers – available at area colleges.

Aligned feeder patterns that afford vertical planning time for all teachers to eliminate educational gaps as children move from elementary to middle school to high school.

A philosophy that encourages children to “advance when ready:” a nimble school environment that can meet the needs of early readers and those demonstrating unusual early facility, allowing them to move on to new academic challenges instead of marking time.

A system of schools sized to maximize collection of state and federal funding.

Elementary Vision:

A safe, clean environment with appropriate resources in every classroom – from teaching tools to tissues.

Individualized learning support for struggling students that begins in Kindergarten.

Small learning groups to support solid reading and math skills.

An exploration of “looping” to allow a teacher to stay with a group two or even three years to focus on building on known strengths and addressing known deficits.

Refashioned art, music, PE and foreign language instruction for all students that builds on and is integrated into the core learning curriculum.

Technology: Wi-fi, SmartBoards, laptops, Kindles, iPads and/or other identified resources – plus the teacher training that ensures technology will be utilized to extend learning

Fully-equipped science labs.

A quality program to meet the needs of gifted learners.

Recess every day.

A magnet program that begins in the upper elementary years – after children begin to demonstrate certain proficiencies – to address the needs of the top five-percent of students.

After-school programs that address learning struggles, while providing other life-enhancing and wellness activities.

Middle School Vision:

A place where children are known by the adults around them – where they are supported in academic pursuits and extra-curriculars.

A clean, safe environment, where adults are trained to develop students and coach them into better choices and behaviors; where intransigent students are removed in deference to the entire school community.

Refashioned art, music, PE and foreign language instruction for all students that builds on and is integrated into the core learning curriculum.

Technology: Wi-fi, SmartBoards, laptops, Kindles, iPads and other identified resources – plus the teacher training that ensure resources will be utilized to extend learning.

Fully-equipped science labs.

A quality program to meet the needs of gifted learners.

A full complement of sports, academic competitions (including science, debate, Hi-Q, chess, engineering) leadership and musical opportunities – with qualified adult leadership – to develop students’ gifts and talents.

Intra-mural programs to promote cooperation and play.

High School Vision:

A place where children are known by the adults around them – where they are supported in academic pursuits and extra-curriculars.

A clean, safe environment, where adults are trained to develop students and coach them into better choices and behaviors; where intransigent students are removed in deference to the entire school community.

Multi-track diplomas that recognize not every child will attend college – but every child needs a high school diploma. Vo-Tech and Career-Tech paths that will ensure students graduate prepared to support themselves and capable of functioning in society.

Courses of study for the brightest students, supported by the resources of area colleges and undergirded by IB, AP and nationally-recognized standards.

General-level classes that do not warehouse children – that are engaging and develop all students.

Mandatory Saturday school for failing students.

Meaningful and informed college counseling.

Technology: Wi-fi, SmartBoards, laptops, Kindles, iPads and other identified resources – plus the teacher training that ensure technology resources will be utilized to extend learning.

Parents Centers for all schools within a cluster that truly offer needed resources, especially to non-English speaking parents.

A full complement of sports, academic competitions (including science, debate, Hi-Q, chess, engineering) leadership and musical opportunities – with qualified adult leadership – to develop students’ gifts and talents.

Intra-mural programs to promote cooperation and play.

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About dekalbschoolwatch

Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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6 Responses to A Vision as Clear as Mud

  1. Thank you for making this effort. I would add . . . and a classroom for every teacher, even if it is small (for small group pull-outs, when necessary and appropriate, which is often). 100% immersion/inclusion has been taken too far, to the detriment of learning. The philosophy has become (and I refer particularly to ELLs here), if a student should be immersed at all, s/he should be immersed all the time. While technology is wonderful, many teachers do not even have a classroom and chalkboard (no less marker board or Smart Board) for their students. Ponder that.
    While facilities are being contemplated, consider ceilings/roofs that leak, that pour in rain when it rains. While we’re talking Common Core, could we talk “common sense?”

  2. thedeal2 says:

    This post reminds me of the thoughts I have shared with all levels of school administration, up to and including the state school board and Governor’s office. Unfortunately, I have lost all hope that anything will ever happen that resembles this. I think what we, in DeKalb, get wrong is that we look around and see all of the amazing students, teachers, and parents and can’t comprehend why our school system can’t do more with it. Why can’t they harness all of the good that is in DeKalb?

    The answer is lack of leadership, competency, and caring across the administrative spectrum and a system size that will never allow for consistent success. With respect to leadership, if tomorrow Apple kept its lowest 3 levels of workers and replaced everyone above them with selfish, greedy idiots, Apple would fail in a matter of months. I used to think that if there were a clean sweep of superintendent and school board, we might have a fighting chance. However, even if that were possible (it isn’t), given the size and diversity (in all respects) of our system, there will never, ever be a consistent student/parent/teacher experience or academic/social result. Without the ability to have a reasonable amount of consistency, there will always be conflict, pointing fingers, politics, back-door deals, and grass is greener. The only answer is smaller systems with fewer levels of leadership, parents who are closer to those who are accountable, and leaders who are closer to the most important people, our students.

  3. camedia09 says:

    I agree that SACS does not offer much help for DeKalb’s problems and I read your 2020 vision with interest. As a school librarian, I looked in vain for how you would incorporate libraries into your system. Are you aware of the research which shows that children in schools with professional librarians read and test better? That’s not computers and whiteboards. That’s a person who can support reading and develop research and critical thinking.

  4. thedeal2 says:

    Has anyone heard of any news from this visit? Seems like we should have heard something.

  5. @camedia09: you are so right. When that original post was written, we never dreamed that librarians (media clerks) would be at risk – or have to be supported by public parent groups in order to exist. My — how things have changed in just a year. Before long, we’ll be advocating for teachers in the classroom … if they can nix paras and library clerks and librarians, certainly the admin could find a way to make teachers dispensable. It’s all so backwards!

  6. Ruby says:

    The children are at risk. How can you have 34+ children in a middle grades classroom, reading levels at 3rd grade, and 10 to 14 special ed students in same room, with most of them label as EBD. Two teachers in the classroom, para on paper, not reality. How can students learn with all the constant disruption, but special ed cannot be suspended but ten days a year. How about this, how can a school pay for 2 instructional coaches, that don’t instruct, and a data clerk. These funds could be for another team of teachers, to make the struggling students have smaller classes. Then maybe we could reach them. Are we here for the children or for making the principal’s job easier?
    Another, how can a school allow students that don’t live in an area, come in on affidavit, disrupt instruction, and never show real proof of residency?

    Are we really here for the children that want to learn?

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